On Pacing and Structure (Part 6): The Seven Point Plot Structure

Next I’ll talk about the 7 Point Plot Structure. I am basing it off the above playlist of videos by the author Dan Wells. I suggest you watch them if you have an hour free. If not, here’s my summary. I am translating this story-creation style into my own style. If you’ve read my other structure summaries, this will be similar to those.


What is the 7 Point Plot Structure? It is a structure based around a series of plot beats and character choices, culminating in the resolution of the story. Let’s get this started.

  1. Hook/Status Quo
  2. Plot Turn 1/Inciting Incident
  3. Pinch 1/Protagonist Acts 1
  4. Midpoint Confrontation
  5. Pinch 2/ Protagonist Acts 2
  6. Plot Turn 2/ Relief and Respite
  7. Resolution/Climax and Denouement

Hook/Status Quo

If you’ve read any of my other structure summaries, you know what this story beat is. This is the beginning of the novel, where you introduce the characters, setting and pre-existing conflicts. As you write this, remember to make it interesting. You need to hook your reader (hence the ‘hook’), to keep them reading so they make it to the more action packed later portions of your book.

Why does this beat exist, from a narrative perspective?

  • To establish the tone of your story.
  • To establish the genre
  • To establish the main character, and introduce their everyday struggles

Examples:

  • In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the Hook of the story is the concept of a little abused boy who lives in a tiny room under the stairs.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold’s ‘The Curse of Chalion,’ the Hook of the story is the introduction of the main character Lupe Cazaril. He’s a beaten and broken ex-slave, who once was a nobleman. Now he’s struggling to to regain a shred of his dignity now that he’s been released from slavery.
  • In Robin McKinley’s ‘Sunshine,’ the Hook of the story is the protagonist Sunshine waking up chained next to a hungry vampire by the name of Constantine. She has to talk to the vampire, trying to convince him to not eat her by her logical arguments and appeals to his humanity… if he has any humanity left.
    • We are also hooked by the unusual, conversational narrative style and Sunshine’s rambling about her friends and everyday life. She’s afraid for her life, but pretending that everything is normal because she doesn’t want to trigger a feeding frenzy in the animated corpse sitting next to her.

Plot Turn 1/Inciting Incident

The Status Quo can’t remain static forever. Outside forces conspire to eject the protagonist from their stagnant status quo, force them to try something new. Look at the other Inciting Incidents in my other structure guides; the same principle applies here.

Why does this beat exist, from a narrative perspective?

  • To get the plot rolling.
  • To increase the tension of the story.

Examples:

  • In Harry Potter, the Inciting Incident is Harry receiving his invitation to Hogwarts, and learning that he’s a wizard.
  • In ‘Curse of Chalion,’ the Inciting Incident is when his old employer the Dowager Provencara hires him back even after he’s been broken by slavery. He becomes the tutor for Iselle, the princess of Chalion.
  • In ‘Sunshine,’ the Inciting Incident is when the evil vampires cut her and throw her on top of the vampire Constantine, hoping to tempt him into drinking her.

Pinch 1/Protagonist Acts 1

Things have reached their breaking point. The protagonist can no longer sit by and watch; they must act. This is the first moment when they must become a master of their own fate.

In other formats, this story beat is equivalent to the No Going Back moment, where the protagonist has responded to the changes in the status quo. The difference here is that this story beat doesn’t have to exist directly as a result/in response to the Inciting Incident.  Consider this the moment when the protagonist goes from passive observer to active participant.

Why does this beat exist, from a narrative perspective?

  • As I just said, this is the moment when the protagonist goes from passive observer of the plot to active participant. They make a choice and start choosing their own destiny.
  • This is either the first or the second obstacle for the protagonist to conquer. Overall, tension should be rising.
  • This should be a moment when PRESSURE is applied directly to the protagonist, moreso than the inciting incident. Focus on the pressure.

Examples:

  • In Harry Potter, Harry and Ron become active participants in the plot when they go confront the troll, as opposed to following the instructions of the teachers and sheltering in place.
  • In ‘Curse of Chalion,’ Lupe becomes an active participant in the plot when he turns down Dondo’s bribe. Before that moment he was actively avoiding trying to draw the attention of the antagonists, so by turning down the bribe he’s not trying to hide any more.
  • In ‘Sunshine,’ Sunshine become an active participant in the plot when she uses her magic to transmute her pocket knife into a key and unlocks both her chains, and Con’s chains, and then she helps Con escapes. Before that moment she was waiting to die and be eaten. After that moment she decided to trust Con and escape using her long-forgotten heritage.

Midpoint Confrontation

The tension ramps up to a peak. This is the mid-book fight scene in a fantasy or thriller, the major falling out scene between the romantic leads in a romance, the moment when the second body is discovered in the mystery book. This scene should be the second most epic moment in your novel, second only to to the actual climax at the end.

Remember that conflict should have consequences.

Why does this beat exist, from a narrative perspective?

  • To provide a dramatic moment of action in the center of the story, for the purpose of increasing the drama and tension.

Examples

  • In Harry Potter, the Midpoint Confrontation occurs in two parts. First, when Harry is nearly assassinated by being kicked off his broomstick during Quiddich. Second, when he witnesses Voldemort drinking the blood of a Unicorn. Put together, these two events ramp up the stakes for Harry: it’s kill or be killed, because Voldemort is coming back.
  • In ‘Curse of Chalion,’ the Midpoint Confrontation is when Lupe begs the gods for the favor of a Death Miracle, killing Dondo to save Iselle. This occurs, but at the cost of Lupe being infested by the soul of the dead Dondo. Cazaril bought Iselle’s freedom by this action, but at enormous personal cost.
  • In ‘Sunshine,’ the Midpoint Confrontation is when, after months of repressing her memories of being trapped by vampires, Sunshine grabs a butter knife and uses it to explode a vampire. This forces her to confront the bad memories of her time being kidnapped by the vampires.

Pinch 2/ Protagonist Acts 2

In the aftermath of the midpoint conflict, the protagonist has to make another choice about how to go forward. Pressure is again applied to him or her. Their plans fall apart, they lose their mentor character, allies abandon them. Seemingly nothing is going right. The protagonist might debate whether or not they’ll abandon this adventure, or some other equally drastic action.

No matter what they choose, this is the moment when it becomes apparent to the protagonist that whatever they do, they have to make a decisive choice to go forward.

Usually, if the protagonist was victorious at the midpoint, they’d suffer a setback here. If the protagonist failed at the midpoint, they’d be successful here.

Why does this beat exist, from a narrative perspective?

  • Ramp up the pressure still further.

Example

  • In Harry Potter, the trio cooperate, using their skills and character traits to pass through the trials set up to guard the Philosopher’s Stone. In the trials, Ron and Hermione sacrifice themselves to allow Harry to pass through to the final confrontation with Voldemort. The ramped up pressure in this case is caused by Harry losing his friends- the source of his strength- to the traps, forcing him to stand on his own.
  • In ‘Curse of Chalion,’ the Pinch 2 is when Iselle’s brother Teidez dies, making Iselle the heir to the throne. Now that she’s heir apparent, Iselle sends Lupe to Ibra to negotiate her wedding contract before she falls into the clutches of the evil royal vizier Martou, Dondo’s brother. Additionally it is revealed that the royal family is cursed, and it is up to Cazaril to lift the curse.
  • In ‘Sunshine,’ the second pinch is when Sunshine hunts down Constantine, and he heals the wound she sustained during their shared imprisoning by the evil vampires.

Plot Turn 2/ Relief and Respite

Things are ramping up to the climax. At this point the protagonist hunts down the McGuffin, finishes their training montage, makes all the allies they need to accomplish the impossible. The heroes muster their courage one last time to fight the main antagonist.

In 5 Act format, this is most similar to Act 4’s latter half, where the protagonists are successful in accomplishing their goals.

Why does this beat exist, from a narrative perspective?

  • To help the protagonist achieve their final goal of defeating the ultimate boss, this plot turn gives the protagonist a minor success required to get them ready for that final confrontation.

Examples:

  • In ‘Harry Potter,’ Harry retreiving the Philosopher’s Stone from the Mirror of Erised is the positive-turn required to fulfill this plot point.
  • In ‘Curse of Chalion,’ the revelation that Cazaril was actually a friend of the prince of Ibra all along. Prince Bergon of Ibra was a slave on the same slave ship as Lupe, and Lupe saved Bergon’s life thus endearing Cazaril to Bergon. This last minute revelation allows Cazaril is able to arrange a marriage between Iselle and prince Bergon of Ibra, stymieing the goals of Martou, Dondo’s brother.
  • In ‘Sunshine,’ in this story beat, Sunshine makes her preparations for the final preparations for the assault on Beau, the evil vampire, which she fully expects to die wall doing. She  says her goodbyes to her friends and family, buys a lot of flowers, and relaxes. The real point of this book is exploring Sunshine’s relationship with her family and friends, so this is a massively bittersweet moment.

Resolution/Climax and Denouement

The resolution has come. The heroes succeed (or fail) in fighting off their enemies. You’ve consumed a bunch of stories over the years, so you know how this goes. The heroes and the villains face off one last time, throw everything they have at one another, and when the dust settles only one will be left standing… Or not. If you’re telling a happier book, maybe the climax will involve the characters becoming friends. It’s up to you!

Why does this beat exist, from a narrative perspective?

  • To wrap up the plot lines in a satisfying fashion.
  • Give the reader a satisfying conclusion, so the last thing they remember about your book is a pleasing ending, so they want to buy book 2.

Examples

  • In Harry Potter, the resolution of the story is twofold.
    • Harry defeats Voldemort, resolving the ‘Harry’s parents were killed by Voldemort’ plot arc.
    • Harry relies on his friends to succeed, resolving the ‘Harry is lonely and has no friends’ plot arc.
  • In ‘Curse of Chalion,’ the resolution is threefold:
    • Iselle and Bergon get married and Martou is defeated, resolving Iselle’s ‘freedom’ plot arc.
    • The Curse is broken, resolving the ‘Curse’ plot arc.
    • Dondo’s ghost is exorcised from Lupe, and Lupe’s ‘religion’ plot arc.
  • In ‘Sunshine,’ the resolution is threefold.
    • Sunshine embraces her magical heritage, from both sides of her family. This resolves the ‘family’ plot arc,
    • Sunshine overcomes her doubts and fears and neuroses and kills Beau, completing the ‘destroying vampire’ plot arc,
    • Sunshine temporarily disguises Con as human, allowing him to escape being caught by the police.This resolves the ‘corrupt police’ plot arc.

And that’s the 7 Point Plot Format. This is a useful tool to use, and I think I learned a good bit from it. It made me realize that the Inciting Incident and the No Going Back point need not necessarily link up to one another.

I find it interesting that this isn’t an Act based story telling format; I suppose if I wanted to jury rig this into the 5 Act Format, I’d say that:

  • The Hook is Act 1
  • Plot Turn 1, Pinch 1 are both Act 2
  • The Midpoint Confrontation is Act 3
  • Plot Pinch 2 is either Act 3 or 4 or 5, depending on it’s function in your story.
  • Plot Turn 2 is either Act 4 or 5
  • And the Resolution should be Act 5

Now that I’m actually thinking through this structure, looking at Dan Well’s advice from the video above, I think he’s wrong. I don’t think that Harry Potter is a good example of the 7 Point Story Structure. I think this because it’s a bit weird that Plot Pinch 2, Plot Turn 2 and the Resolution all happen in the same scene. I think Harry Potter better fits the 3 Act format or the 5 Act format.

Anyway, enough of me rambling. That’s the 7 Point Plot Structure. I hope you have a nice day.

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